Monday, December 1, 2014

Past simple adventures: a fun pronunciation class

ESL teachers are used to be faced with many challenges on a daily basis, but the students sometimes need to be eased into a challenge to avoid them being scared of the new grammar topic. Usually, the first time they encounter the past simple tense is a bit daunting, for they feel insecure with the new rules they must oblige to. On top of the grammar rules, we must add the pronunciation ingredient to a fluent learner recipe, and that is when the content may feel overwhelming. The teacher knows it is not rocket science, but only pronunciation that needs to be tackled with meaningful content, activation of schemata and some good old practice, and one way to achieve these three goals is by playing games in classroom. To fulfill the objective of teaching ESL learners how to pronounce the past simple endings, one can go through the following steps in class and have fun while learning!

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The first activity to be done is a review on verbs in the past simple form, for the students have already been introduced to the topic and must practice it. To do that, you will play a memory game in which they must pair the verb in the base form with the verb in the past simple form. You can use this game to review some irregular verbs too, but remember that the regular verbs are the target at this moment. You may divide your class in groups depending on how many students you have and how much time you have on your hands. Each set of cards will be played by two teams, and the team that gets more pairs, wins. It is important to assess them during the game, ask them questions, drill the pronunciation and have them speak, not only read the cards. Once they have gone through the deck of cards, you can be sure they will remember the verbs they have studied.

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Secondly, they need to realize that there are indeed, three possible different ending sounds in past simple regular verbs (/t/,/d/,/ɪd/). It is usually much more meaningful to students realize a pattern by themselves than to simply tell them. Therefore, you should find real audio input with three verbs (that are not on the deck of cards) being pronounced in the past simple (e.g. wanted, helped, called). This is a good moment to expose them to different speakers other than you, their teacher; you can find this audio sample in the course book, on the internet or you can even ask colleagues to record. Once you play the track once or twice, if they have not realized the difference between the samples yet, you can tell them to listen to how they are pronounced. The idea is that you guide them through the realization of the differences. Use the board to build with them a chart with three columns (/t/,/d/,/ɪd/) and write the three verbs from the sample in the columns.

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The third activity needs to make them think about the different endings they have just learned. Therefore, you will play another audio sample with all the verbs in the set of cards. Have them only listen the first time, then make them repeat the verbs after the sample. Tell them that they will have a second chance at winning if they place the verbs they got in the memory game in the correct column of the chart you drew on the board. Go through the listening and drilling on more time before they start competing. Give them masking tape to stick only the cards with the past simple form on the correct place. You can choose a team leader at this point, or even draw a second chart if you have many students. Now the winner is the group that finishes the task first, so you might have to re-distribute the verbs they got in the memory game. Remember that the activity only ends once you have corrected their production as a group, for this is the time to really make the learning settle. Now that the charts have a bigger amount of examples, elicit from them the rule behind these three possible endings. Depending on their level and what you have already studied you can use the terms voiced and voiceless, or you can scrutinize every and each sound that comes before the past ending. To really achieve the goal of having them pronounce the endings correctly, you will need to do some more drilling at this point again.

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To wrap up the fun day of past simple adventures, it is nice for them to produce and practice the pronunciation topic they have just learned. You can tell them that you have planned games for them to have fun, now it is time for them to plan games to each other. For this task you will need IPads with the app TinyTap downloaded. Divide your class in pairs or trios and tell them that they must make a game in which they pronounce the regular verb in the past, and the player needs to choose between (and tap on) the  /t/, the /d/or the /ɪd/ ending. The app is easy to use, but it is important to get acquainted with it in advance so that you can help your students accomplish the challenge. Do not forget to help them with their speaking as well, for that is the target of the lesson. Once they have finished making their game, have them change IPads and play with each other´s games. At this point you can also change IPads with another teacher’s group. The point is to have them listen and produce the verbs within different activities.

Some students might be nervous about producing language for they fear they will make mistakes. What they do not realize is that teachers see these mistakes as teachable moments. In order to enjoy these moments without exposing students, teachers may use games in the classroom. Having a classroom environment that is fun, enjoyable, meaningful and interesting will get students motivated in every activity proposed by the teacher, even the scary pronunciation tasks. This essay detailed a lesson plan that has proven to be successful and, with the necessary changes, I believe it can be helpful to other teachers and ESL groups out there.

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